Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

The book that sparked a national conversation. Exploring everything from eradicated black history to the inextricable link between class and race, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race is the essential handbook for anyone who wants to understand race relations in Britain today.

Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge is the book about race and Britain I didn’t know I needed.

So, a weird thing about the British education system – at least, back when I was in it – is that you don’t really learn anything about the history of race in the country. The UK’s colonialist history, the atrocities it has inflicted on other countries, how those wounds continue to be felt today were – and I am embarrassed to admit this, but I’ll be honest about it – things I learned entirely by accident through fiction.

I know how white I sound right now.

And yet even in the last few years, as I’ve learned chunks of a history that even now my country fails to be held accountable for, a lot of what I have learned about black history in particular has been through an American lens. It’s a phenomenon Eddo-Lodge describes in the book, the “heavy focus on Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad and Martin Luther King Jr., the household names of America’s civil rights movement felt important” to her, but far away from her own experiences as a black person in the UK.

Eddo-Lodge then sets up the history of black Britain in brief, from the slave ports dotted all over the country (one of them very near where I live that I had no idea about) to the black and brown soldiers who fought in World War One, promised the end of colonial rule in return for their service (a promise England broke), race riots and the utterly horrifying lynching of Charles Wootton – to which Britain responded by ‘repatriating’ (deporting, basically) 600 black people from the country.

In setting up the history of racism in Britain and its manifestation now, as a reader you can’t help but reflect on what’s changed – but more strikingly, what hasn’t. In 1900, the British government decided that the ‘solution’ to the problem of racist crime in the community was to send black people ‘home’ (to places they had been forcibly removed from by the British who enslaved them). Nowadays we deal with structural racism with a similar ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach – by pretending it doesn’t exist. As Eddo-Lodge says, white people “truly believe that the experiences of their life as a result of their skin colour can and should be universal.” And yet as she goes onto explain, with the stark disparities in educational opportunities, higher unemployment rates, harsher police responses (for example, black people are twice as likely to be charged with drug possession despite lower rates of use), disproportionate and inappropriate use of the Mental Health Act and generally worse health outcomes for black people, this narrative of equality we have invented quickly falls apart.

Every section of this book is fascinating and challenging, but none more so than the chapter about feminism – specifically Eddo-Lodge’s points about white feminism. That is, for the uninitiated, feminism that doesn’t take account of race. If you’re a white girl born in the nineties, in other words, the feminism that you were brought up on. Eddo-Lodge writes in detail about her experiences with white feminism, and in particular the way that white women often frame themselves as victims in a conversation about their own privilege (think Taylor Swift/ Nicki Minaj VMAs incident from a few years ago) in such a way that paints black women as ‘angry’ villains, effectively pushing them out of the conversation. As Eddo-Lodge puts it: “The white feminist distaste for intersectionality quickly evolved into a hatred for the idea of white privilege – perhaps because to recognise structural racism would have to mean recognising their own whiteness.”
White feminism perceives intersectionality as a threat to its identity. It’s the same old racism under new guise, and one that is rampant even in what many white people consider to be progressive circles.

Even if non-fiction isn’t your go-to, I think you should read this book. Eddo-Lodge’s work is important, powerful and deeply engaged with the political moment without pandering to the idea that racism is something that just happened in the last couple years – she’s very clear that it’s only white people who hadn’t noticed it before 2016. It’s a work that also serves as a call to action and a reminder, for white readers anyway, that the job of picking apart structural racism is the responsibility of everyone – most especially those who have spent their entire lives benefitting from it.
Reni Eddo-Lodge is a vital writer and Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race should be at the top of every intersectional feminist’s reading list.

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Roar

Have you ever imagined a different life? Have you ever stood at a crossroads undecided? Have you ever had a moment when you wanted to roar?

The women in these startlingly original stories are all of us: the women who befriend us, the women who encourage us, the women who make us brave. From The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared to The Woman Who Was Kept on the Shelf and The Woman Who Returned and Exchanged Her Husband, discover 30 very different women. Each discovers her strength; each realizes she holds the power to make a change.

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Roar, Cecelia Ahern’s short story offering is a selection of feminist tales that aim to explore the pressures, prejudices, joys and maddening frustrations of women’s lives. The stories weave magical realism into the modern day pressures of motherhood, marriage and aging in a way that was effective if occasionally a little contrived.

Overall, I found Roar to be a pretty mixed bag. I enjoy magical realism, but Ahern’s on the nose use of metaphor at times came across a little heavy handed. The first story in the collection, The Woman Who Slowly Disappeared sees a middle aged woman gradually vanish into nothing – making the point that women in middle age and beyond are ignored and maligned in society (particularly noticeably in the UK, where it’s generally accepted that women aren’t allowed to be on TV anymore once they hit 50). In The Woman Who Wore Pink, gender roles are enforced by a literal Gender Police that sees men and women fined and even imprisoned when they don’t adhere to the roles society has laid out for them. I’m not arguing her point, but there was a layer of subtlety missing in the collection that made me feel like she wasn’t so much showing me her opinion as bashing me over the head with it.

While overall I found this heavy handedness to be disconcerting, there were times when she used it to amusing and deeply satisfying effect. The Woman Who Guarded Gonads, about a world in which men have to appeal to a room of women to be allowed a vasectomy flips the narrative of bodily autonomy on its head and has men held to the same standards women have struggled against since forever. Lines like “And what about the lack of thought for the sperm? Why deny your sperm the right to life?” highlight the utter ridiculousness of the ‘pro-life’ position in a way that was as funny as it was cathartic.

What has left me so on the fence about this collection however was one particular story that left a bad taste in my mouth. The Woman Who Blew Away is the story of a millennial influencer who is obsessed with her Instagram likes, spends hours on her makeup, has plastic surgery and takes lots of selfies who one day “became so light, her head filled with too much nothing, she blew away”. This story was such an outlier – especially in such an overtly feminist collection – built on stereotypes, assumptions and the coding of things typically ‘feminine’ as stupid. In a book packed with complexly imagined women fighting guilt, insecurity and harassment this story of oh she likes makeup and cares about social media so therefore she must be stupid was a slap in the face. It felt very Rashida Jones #stopactinglikewhores level tone deaf and cast a bit of a shadow over the rest of the collection for me – and perhaps extinguished any patience I had kept for the aspects of Ahern’s writing that weren’t working for me.

While it definitely had some triumphant moments, overall Roar was let down by obvious metaphors and Ahern’s decision to give some women complexity and nuance while removing it from others.  It felt very feminism 101, which while still a good thing in itself, didn’t really say anything that was new to me.

All the Single Ladies

Today, only around 20 percent of Americans between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960. Rebecca Traister sets out to investigate this trend at the intersection of class, race and sexual orientation, supplementing facts with vivid anecdotes from fascinating contemporary and historical figures.

All the Single Ladies is a remarkable portrait of how single women shaped contemporary American life.

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All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by Rebecca Traister is part sociological study, part memoir and part feminist polemic that combines to create a compulsively readable and intersectional text that, for me at least, was as empowering as it was educational.

Through extensive research and interviews with women from a range of racial and economic backgrounds, Traister paints a fascinating portrait of female singlehood in the US  – though as a single woman living in the UK most of it felt entirely applicable.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such an intersectional feminist text written by a white lady. It’s an exploration of the decline in marriage and rise of female independence that consistently holds the feminist movement to account for its failings and exclusion of women of colour, queer women and working class women throughout history and today. Traister makes sure to acknowledge at every step that the barriers and obstacles white women face are so often different than those faced by women of colour, and that the standards those women of colour are expected to meet are unrealistically and absurdly higher.

All the Single Ladies casts a huge net, looking at women’s careers, friendships, unmarried and single mothers, sex, adult virginity (chosen and somewhat accidental – the I was busy doing other things  people we very rarely acknowledge), religion and fertility. Traister manages to tackle it all with a relatively neutral brush (apart from when Phyllis Schlafly came up but you kind of have to give a girl a break as far as that can of worms in concerned), covering a wide range of lifestyles without casting judgement on any of them – single through choice or circumstance, married happily, unhappily or divorced, there was no sense any particular lifestyle was superior.

Ultimately, that’s the point I took from the book. That women – all women – should be able to live however to hell we want. You know, like white men have been doing for literally the whole of history. Get married or don’t. Have kids or don’t. What we want, and what I desperately hope we’re heading towards is a future in which women can live however they like without all the misogynistic bullshit.

Single, partnered or in a long term relationship, I can’t recommend this book enough. Looking at the strides we’ve taken in redefining womanhood, married and single life in the last century was inspiring – and looking at where change still needs to happen totally motivating. Traister is a fantastic writer, and I had a great time being enlightened by her.

‘A true age of female selfishness, in which women recognised and prioritised their own drives to the same degree to which they have always been trained to tend to the needs of all others, might, in fact, be an enlightened corrective to centuries of self-sacrifice.

Amina Sow agrees. The advice she gives everyone is “Always choose yourself first. Women are very socialised to choose other people. If you put yourself first, it’s this incredible path you can forge for yourself.” Amina too understood how she sounded as the words were coming out of her mouth. “If you choose yourself people will say you’re selfish,” she said. “But no. You have agency. You have dreams. It takes a lot of qualify a man as selfish.”’

Heck. Yes.

March favourites

March: two lots of snow, endless rain and the occasional glimpse of sunlight. I am so ready for spring. Despite the weather, it’s been quite a good life month. The company I’ve been writing for the past year have extended my contract yet again, leaving me free of career panic until the autumn. It’s funny to think that this time last year I was in a constant state of anxiety about having zero life direction, but now that I do, and not only that but am actually earning money doing the thing I ultimately want to spend my life doing,  I live in constant fear of it all going away. This adulthood thing never lets up.

This is why we have books and Netflix. Speaking of, without further ado, here are my favourites for March:

TV: Jessica Jones & Sneaky Pete

Come on! There was no way I could choose only one. I adored both of these shows from their premieres and having them both return in the same month was the best kind of televisual gift.

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JJ thoughts: Why do I love you so much when all you ever do is hurt me?

Sneaky Pete

Sneaky Pete thoughts: I am so ready for some kind of Marius and Julia heist situation. Also real Pete is such a gem he almost (*almost*) made up for the lack of Eddie in season 2.

Podcast: The 50th episode of The Bright Sessions

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The Bright Sessions, for the uninitiated, is a wonderful fictional podcast by Lauren Shippen about people with supernatural abilities in therapy. It’s very much the Buffy the Vampire Slayer of podcasts – a tense and dramatic supernatural show that is actually a heart-rending examination of fucked up people and their messy lives. I adore it, and for their fiftieth run, in true Buffy style, they did a musical episode. At the start, I was smiling in the uniquely joyful way you do when your faves burst into song unexpectedly, by the end I was a tearful, emotional mess. This weird little show packs a serious emotional punch, and I will be very sad when it ends later this year.

Random stuff: The Bleed

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I used to be a huge fan of the Lenny Letter. When it first came out it felt like it was addressing this huge gap in my reading life, as well as showing me a model of what I could achieve with my own writing if I really put my mind to it. Though Lena Dunham is a controversial figure and has frequently been wrong, even as I was irked by her, I stuck with the newsletter, because I thought what it was doing was of value. But after how she and Jenni Konner responded to Aurrora Perrineu’s allegation of sexual assault against their friend Murray Miller, I was out. Both Dunham and Konner betrayed everything they ever stood for – and I just didn’t feel right supporting their work after that. But I missed Lenny, and wanted an injection of women-centred journalism coming in my inbox on the reg. Enter The Bleed, the Call Your Girlfriend podcast newsletter. Every month, Aminatou, Ann and Gina post a list of the articles they loved from the month, and it is informative and fantastic and has somewhat plugged the hole left behind by Lenny – though if you have further suggestions of high quality feminist content online please throw them my way.

Special mention: Mike Coulter’s Instagram account

He is an adorable man and I love having him in my feed.

Did you have a fun March? Any faves I should know about?

 

The F Word

Here’s to the girl who knows you inside out. The work wife, our long distance confidant, and tea chat companions. To the one who is cripplingly honest, and the new friends we’re yet to meet.

When I look back on my life almost every decision, experience and memory comes with a female companion somewhere behind the scenes – supporting me, pushing me, or telling me outright that I’m in the wrong.

If I could offer one piece of invaluable advice for women and girls of all ages, it’s that there is nothing more important than creating and maintaining strong, positive and happy friendships with other women.

They might be complex and emotional, but they’re the mini love stories that make us who we are; they move us into new homes, out of bad relationships, through births and illnesses, and they shape us into the women we want to become.

The F Word is a celebration of female friendships… all strings attached.

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The F Word: A Personal Exploration of Modern Female Friendship by Lily Pebbles is the love letter to the strength, tenacity, complexity and fun of female friendships I’ve always wanted to read.  One of my besties sent it to me as an International Women’s Day gift.

Yep. I’m lucky like that.

It has bothered me for a long time the relatively low status that friendships have. We’re all about love and sex, as if those relationships are the only ones you need, so much so that, for some people, that becomes their truth. I think we’ve all had at least one friend who vanishes without a trace the moment they get into a romantic relationship. But for me, my female friends are some of the most important in my life – and not just because I’m single. In the past, female friendships have also been the sources of some of my greatest heartbreaks. I still feel a little bit sad thinking back to when I was 9 and my best friend at the time, Lara, told me that she didn’t want to be my best friend anymore, because I didn’t ride horses and Zoe did ride horses so she was going to be best friends with her instead. Brutal.

In The F Word, Lily covers all that and more. Through a collection of her own experiences interwoven with those of the women around her, she breaks down different kinds of friendships and the roles they play in our lives. She sketches familiar figures, from the ‘work wife’ and the ‘big sister friend’ to the BFF (it’s not a person, it’s a tier) and the BFFN or ‘best friend for now’.  Crucially, I think, she made clear that #friendshipgoals isn’t only one thing – it isn’t only the 90s Friends-style daily hangouts in your nearest coffee shop, sometimes it’s only seeing someone a couple of times a year but always being able to pick up right where you left off. Other times it’s organising Skype dates with someone who lives on the other side of the planet, or drifting away for a time only to come back together later on, when your lives are once again in sync. She makes clear that the length and depth of a friendship is much greater than a single Instagram post, which, in a world where something is only legitimate once it’s online, is important.

There is so much goodness in this book. Whether she’s discussing how to be a good friend, maintaining friendships even once you’re romantically attached or the thorny subject of toxic friendships, Lily approaches it all with empathy and a sort of calm wisdom I’m told you find once you’ve reached the end of your twenties. Lily, as anyone who has ever dived into her YouTube videos will know, is a very calming presence, and that sense of her is sprinkled all over the book. I can easily imagine myself returning to it on a rainy Sunday when I’m in need of a comfort read.

Most of all, The F Word leaves you feeling inspired by your community of women, and even more crucially, open to letting more into your life. This book is the perfect antidote to the Mean Girls crap we’ve been fed out whole lives. Female friendships are the best. I’m so happy we’re finally acknowledging it.

 

Genuine Fraud

IMOGEN: is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook and a cheat.

JULE: is a fighter, a social chameleon and an athlete.

Imogen and Jule. Jule and Imogen.

An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two. A bad romance, or maybe three.

Blunt objects, disguises, blood and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies and villains. A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her. A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

A girl who is a… genuine fraud.

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Spoilers ahead.

I adore E Lockhart. There are very few authors who have been with me as long as she has, and many of her books were very formative for my younger self. I picked up The Boyfriend List when I was in my early teens, and it cemented forever my love of contemporary YA fiction. A series about the heartbreak of broken female friendships, mental health and first love, it was everything I needed at that point in my life. Then she released The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, which remains one of my favourite books to this day. The feminism, experimental writing – the way she manipulated language in that book really woke me up the possibilities of what writing can be – and complicated characters marked a shift in Lockhart’s writing career that she has expanded on in fascinating and often heartrending ways in subsequent novels.

Almost all of Lockhart’s work is concerned with female outsiders. Whether it’s Ruby becoming a social pariah after losing her boyfriend to her best friend, Gretchen Kaufman feeling like the only boring girl in art school or Frankie Landau-Banks tearing her boarding school apart proving her superiority to the boys who discounted her, all of her books are somehow concerned with women on the fringes – by choice or otherwise.

Then she released We Were Liars, and further built on her evolving writing style, creating a female outsider so alienated from everyone around her that even the reader didn’t realise she was lying to us until it was too late.

In Genuine Fraud, she’s done it again. Jule is perhaps the most unreliable narrator of them all, but unlike Cadence in We Were Liars, she isn’t trying to hide it. We know that Jule is a liar, it’s what she’s lying about that remains mysterious.

Genuine Fraud is a book told backwards, with fascinating consequences. To read it is to have constant whiplash, as every truth you’ve taken for granted is turned on its head, picked apart and then re-established as something else entirely. Jule tells stories about herself to craft an identity that she can live with, and has so completely assimilated with these adopted identities that it’s all but impossible to differentiate between the truth of Jule and the illusion she has thrown up for us and everyone else – but most crucially, for herself.

In her latest offering, E Lockhart has crafted yet another novel that keeps up guessing throughout. Her rejection of chronology creates a story filled with tension, manipulation and the occasional explosion of violence. It looks at how one snap decision to lie can change the direction of your entire life.

It’s quite an experience.

 

Her Body and Other Parties

In her provocative debut, Carmen Maria Machado demolishes the borders between magical realism and science fiction, comedy and horror, fantasy and fabulism. Startling stories map the realities of women’s lives and the violence visited on their bodies, both in myth and in practice.

A wife refuses her husband’s entreaties to remove the mysterious green ribbon from around her neck. A woman recounts her sexual encounters as a plague spreads across the earth. A salesclerk in a mall makes a horrifying discovery about a store’s dresses. One woman’s surgery-induced weight loss results in an unwanted house guest.

Bodies become inconsequential, humans become monstrous, and anger becomes erotic. A dark, shimmering slice into womanhood, Her Body and other Parties is wicked and exquisite.

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Does anyone else really dread reviewing certain books? Please tell me that it’s not just me.

Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado came to me, like so many of my reads, through the Belletrist book club. I found this genre-bending short story collection challenging, confusing, disturbing and often beautifully expressed.

I would classify the reading experience as: uncomfortable.

This collection of erotic horror fairy tales isn’t made for a passive reading experience. As the title suggests, Machado’s collection is intimately concerned with women’s bodies in their desires, peculiarities and wounds. It isn’t for the faint of heart – or stomach. From the first story, called ‘The Husband’s Stitch’ (if you live in a world where you don’t know the meaning of that term, I can only advise you remain that way and don’t Google it), Machado unflinchingly studies the violence women’s bodies undergo by society, partners and themselves – there is more than one very sensory depiction of squeezing out a puss-ey lesion in this collection. Think Josh Chan’s recent staph infection on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. But worse.

Machado uses her collection to engage with the various ways that women’s bodies are under attack. In ‘The Husband’s Stitch’, we see much of the narrator’s life, from meeting her husband and falling in love, to having a child and in turn seeing him grow up. She’s consumed by passed along tales of woe of women who tried to step outside the boundaries of the roles ascribed to them by their gender only to have it all end in disaster, and self-polices her own desires accordingly. She considers her marriage happy – if interspersed with moments in which her husband’s lack of respect becomes clear. Their marriage has only one real conflict. The narrator has worn around her neck for her whole life a green ribbon, and she will not allow her husband to touch it. Though she shares herself with him in every other respect, he cannot get over the fact that he is not allowed to touch this green ribbon. He can’t allow her to be the sole owner of even one single part of herself, and when she finally gives in and allows him possession of the thing she so desperately wished to keep as her own, horror ensues.

In another story, ‘Eight Bites’, a woman has weight loss surgery only to find the removed fat assembles itself into a creature that lives in her house. The creature has no eyes or ears or nose or mouth and when the woman comes into contact with it for the first time, she attacks it – kicking it, stabbing it, ripping it to pieces.

“I find myself wishing she would fight back, but she doesn’t. Instead, she sounds like she is being deflated. A hissing, defeated wheeze.”

This violence against the self – first more ethereal before becoming painfully, flinchingly literal is familiar to us all as we are bombarded everywhere we look of images of the ‘ideal bikini body’, where weight loss isn’t a cause for concern but for praise. I always remember this one time when I went to see a Katherine Ryan stand up show; she spoke about her divorce and how the trauma of it caused her to lose a ton of weight. When she saw herself in the mirror she thought she looked like she had a horrific disease. Everyone else? Well, they complimented her on how great she looked so skinny.

Her Body and Other Parties is a haunting collection of mostly horrifying stories built on the truths of patriarchy. From the episode-by-episode rewrite of Law and Order: SVU – a show which creates entertainment out of sexual violence against women – Machado tells the haunting tale of a detective followed by the ghosts of murdered women, to ‘Real Women Have Bodies’, in which women across the country are becoming incurably incorporeal – the faded women haunt the streets of cities and have themselves sewn into the seams of designer dresses – she tells the disturbing tale of what it is to be a woman in a world in which your body is forever under attack.

Not all books are supposed to be comfortable, and Her Body and Other Parties definitely took me to my limits of self-inflicted anxiety. It’s a strange book that I find difficult to recommend, exactly, but would encourage you to read anyway.